LINGUIST List 15.1720

Sun Jun 6 2004

Review: Sociolinguistics: Pavlenko & Blackledge (2004)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley Collberg at


  1. Marian Sloboda, Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts

Message 1: Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts

Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2004 12:07:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Marian Sloboda <>
Subject: Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts

EDITOR: Pavlenko, Aneta; Blackledge, Adrian 
TITLE: Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts
SERIES: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Marian Sloboda, Charles University, Prague


The book under review is a collection of contributions unified by one
theoretical approach. The approach, which the editors expose in the
Introduction, is broad but coherent. It is rooted in contributors'
shared interest in interconnections between identity, languages,
power, and social justice. Contributions to the volume elaborate, in
one or the other way, on the fact that different languages, discourses
and identities are not socially equal and equally empowering. The
approach chosen is applied to a number of different multilingual
settings, in which, however, English figures most often as one of the

The volume contains 11 chapters plus Introduction, written by 12
experienced scholars and younger researchers. All of them come from
English-speaking countries, but they are not always of Anglo-American
origin. It is interesting and certainly welcomed that 10 of them are
woman and only two men, which is a reverted proportion in comparison
to what has been usual so far. The contributors are specialists in
bilingualism often with connection to education/pedagogy (cf. the
book's publication in the Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
series). Nevertheless, not all chapters show connection to education,
as we will see in the contents description, which follows.


In Introduction, ''New theoretical approaches to the study of
negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts,'' ANETA PAVLENKO
and ADRIAN BLACKLEDGE review briefly two approaches:
sociopsychological and interactional sociolinguistic, and continue
with a more extensive exposition of poststructuralist approaches, one
of which the contributors advocate in the present volume (drawing,
e.g., on Bourdieu 1991). They view identities as ''social, discursive,
and narrative options offered by a particular society in a specific
time and place to which individuals and groups appeal in an attempt to
self-name, to self- characterize, and to claim social spaces and
social prerogatives'' (p. 19). The authors add the concept of
positioning, which has been originally designed for a conversational
phenomenon (Davies - Harre 1990), but the authors extend it to all
discursive practice. Bakhtinian metaphorical concept of 'voice'
(Bakhtin 1981) has been extended as well and, as one of the
contributors (Jennifer Miller) mentions, it has also acquired more
literal, though still symbolic, meaning. Its audability and one's
right to speak and be heard determine possibilities of her/his
(self-)identification and identity negotiation (p. 293). NEGOTIATION
OF IDENTITIES is understood here as ''an interplay between reflective
positioning, i.e. self- representation, and interactive positioning,
whereby others attempt to position particular individuals or groups''
(p. 20). Negotiation ''may also take place 'within' individuals
[i.e. between Bakhtinian voices], resulting in changes in
self-representation'' (p. 21). The authors distinguish three types of
identities: imposed (non-negotiable in particular time and place),
assumed (accepted but not negotiated), and negotiable (which may be
contested by groups and individuals). The contributors to this volume
focus on the identities contested by individuals and groups in
resistance to others or existing discourses. They adopt a larger
sociohistorical perspective on identities.

In Chapter 1, '''The making of an American': Negotiation of identities
at the turn of the twentieth century,'' ANETA PAVLENKO shows and
explains differences between 12 memoirs of European immigrants to
U.S.A. at the turn of the 20th century and present-time
immigrants. The former used rhetorical means that succeeded in making
the American identity negotiable for new arrivals to the US and they
did not foreground linguistic identities; the latter, on the contrary,
express experiences of language discrimination and difficulties with
identity negotiation, which stems from tensions between other- and

In Chapter 2, ''Constructions of identity in political discourse in
multilingual Britain,'' ADRIAN BLACKLEDGE examines an intertextual
'chain of discourses' (Fairclough 1995), that is, 'dialogical network'
(Nekvapil - Leudar 2002) - but he does not work with the latter
concept - in which network actors (British state officials) contribute
to a change in the official language ideology. The chain starts with
news on 'race riots' in northern England, and ends in issuing the
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act in 2002, which states that,
inter alia, also spouses of British citizens are obliged to prove
sufficient knowledge of English (or Welsh or Gaelic) in order to
acquire British citizenship. Drawing on Irvine and Gal (2000),
Blackledge shows how language was indexed to the nature of its
speakers, understanding English indexed to good race relations, and
Britain 'reimagined' as a monolingual state.

In Chapter 3, ''Negotiating between 'bourge' and 'racaille': Verlan as
a youth identity practice in suburban Paris,'' MEREDITH DORAN deals
with Verlan, a variety widely known and spoken by French urban youth,
which originated among North-African immigrants in France. Based on
participant observation in Les Salieres (an ethnically heterogeneous
town near Paris), interviews and records of natural speech, the
chapter discusses Verlan as both means and product of construction and
negotiation of identities of local youth groups.

In Chapter 4, ''Black Deaf or Deaf Black? Being black and deaf in
Britain,'' MELISSA JAMES and BENCIE WOLL follow the life history lines
of 21 deaf respondents and their identity development which under
their specific living conditions (in their family, school and
employment) resulted in acceptation of the identity of Black and Deaf
(''to be deaf is to have a hearing loss; to be Deaf is to belong to a
community with its own language and culture,'' p. 125). The authors
describe the respondents' identity choices based on personal
experiences of interactions with black, deaf and other people, and
then dwell on the respondents' perceptions of being Black, Deaf, Black
Deaf or Deaf Black.

In Chapter 5, ''Mothers and mother tongue: Perspectives on
self-construction by mothers of Pakistani heritage,'' JEAN MILLS
presents results of her analysis of semi-structured interviews which
she carried out with 10 mothers of Pakistani origin who live in
Britain. Although the title of her contribution highlights the
category 'mother tongue,' Mills discusses this emic concept in a wider
net of linkages between the respondents' selves and meanings they have
constructed in the interviews for all their languages. The
respondents put language issues to close connection with the issues of
mothering - esp. the question of being a 'good mother' in the eyes of
their relatives and their own.

In Chapter 6, ''The politics of identity, representation, and the
discourses of self-identification: Negotiating the periphery and the
center,'' FRANCES GIAMPAPA first explains what the 'center'
(prototype) of Canadian Italian identity is. Then she focuses on
self-positioning and identity negotiation of three young respondents
of Italian origin who diverge from the 'center' in some way and,
therefore, find themselves on the 'periphery'. The important role of
respondents' languages in situationally variable self- positioning is
examined in the workplace and peer-group settings. Interview and
questionnaire data served as the material for analysis.

In Chapter 7, ''Alice doesn't live here anymore: Foreign language
learning and identity reconstruction,'' CELESTE KINGINGER reconstructs
the dramatic language learning trajectory of a young American
working-class woman. The respondent's story, as retold by Kinginger on
the basis of interview and written data, shows the reader how a
language identity, in this case the identity of French as constructed
by the respondent, evolved during her life in the United States, stay
in France, and life again in the US. The chapter also manifests the
cohesion of language learning processes with biographical,
psychological, and social facts.

In Chapter 8, ''Intersections of literacy and construction of social
identities,'' BENEDICTA EGBO discusses findings of her research of two
rural communities in Nigeria. On the basis of participant observation,
focus-group discussion, and interviews with 36 female members of the
communities, she presents differences between the self-perceptions of
literate vs. non-literate respondents. She concentrates on bonds
between literacy in general, being literate woman in the researched
communities in particular, gender, and power in the community as well
as home. Egbo concludes that literacy, if assisted by other factors,
empowers marginalized Nigerian women.

In Chapter 9, ''Multilingual writers and the struggle for voice in
academic discourse,'' SURESH CANAGARAJAH, having analyzed texts of six
multilingual students and experienced academicians, shows how they
construct their voice (''a manifestation of one's agency in discourse
through the means of language,'' p. 267) in coping with dominant
discourses. The author describes several strategies of relating one's
self to the discourses: avoidance (of negotiation with them),
transposition (of features of one discourse to another and vice
versa), accommodation (to a dominant discourse), opposition (to a
dominant discourse), and appropriation (of a dominant discourse to
one's own agenda). Finally, the author assesses the strategies in a
comparative, relational way.

In Chapter 10, ''Identity and language use: The politics of speaking
ESL in Schools,'' JENNIFER MILLER shifts the reader's attention to the
social conditions of negotiation of identities. She examines the
situation of several Chinese and Bosnian students at an Australian
high school who use English as their second language (ESL). Miller
shows that the environment does not open to them the same
possibilities to speak and be heard in this language in comparison to
each other and their native-English-speaking classmates. Their
audability (as well as visibility) is a key factor in their

In Chapter 11, ''Sending mixed messages: Language minority education
at a Japanese public elementary school,'' YASUKO KANNO, following
esp. Cummins (2000), criticizes 'coercive relations of power' between
the teacher and pupil, in which the teacher imposes values on the
pupil, irrespective of the background and personality of the
latter. Kanno advocates 'collaborative relations of power,' in which
the teacher respects her/his pupil. In the school analyzed both these
relations occur mixed: teachers show respect for minority children's
cultural background and L1 but they do not support it in contrast to
Japanese, knowledge of which is a primary goal of instruction. As a
result, the children undergo L1 attrition and assimilation.


I would like to elaborate here on three topics, namely, negotiation,
discourse, and discursivity, and the extent, to which they are
represented in this volume, which remains excellent in spite of any
criticism that may be raised against some of its aspects.

The definition of 'negotiation of identities' in the Introduction sets
up some expectations as regards what the subsequent chapters might be
about. In reading them, the reader may arrive at the impression that
some of the chapters are rather about something else than negotiation.
They are still excellent and very interesting in themselves indeed,
but might fit better elsewhere. For instance, Egbo's chapter (Ch. 8)
is a stimulating, noteworthy and important text, but I have failed to
see where is negotiation in it (except on p. 262). Blackledge's
chapter (Ch. 2), to give another example, does not foreground identity
negotiation as such. There is intertextuality operating with
identities there, but negotiation presupposes two voices 'speaking'
discordantly (cf. definition above and on p. 20) and the voices of
the different texts analyzed are not in disagreement (although there
is some _within_ one text, see below). Chapter 7 by Kinginger, which
differs from the other chapters in more respects, is virtually a
happy-ending story of a young working-class American woman who dreams
of learning French. The chapter is reminiscent of the work on
linguistic (auto)biographies (e.g. Franceschini 2003 and forthcoming,
Nekvapil 2003), but it has not its academic focus and is rather a
paraphrase of the respondent's story with the analytic component
suppressed. (Nevertheless, an asset one can see in this chapter is
that it provides valuable material for comparison in the form of a
convincing and impressive story of intertwining of language learning
with the learner's biography, personal social-life experience and
social stereotypes.) Thus, on the one hand, there is this sort of
non-prototypical analysis of identity negotiation in the present
volume; on the other hand, there are also analyses that can be
considered really prototypical in this respect. In my opinion,
Giampapa's, Canagarajah's, Pavlenko's, and James' and Woll's
contributions (Ch. 6, 9, 1 and 4) represent the latter case. Miller's
chapter (Ch. 10), although it does not have its primary focus on
identity negotiation, is remarkable for that it focuses on conditions
of negotiation.

It seems that there is variable emphasis on various aspects of the
phenomenon of identity negotiation in the present volume. Three
aspects might be discerned here: CONSTRUCTION (emphasis on identity
creation), MODIFICATION (emphasis on identity reconstruction), and
NEGOTIATION as such (emphasis on joint
creation/modification/ascription by at least two more or less
discordant voices, intertextually or intratextually). In Doran's
chapter (Ch. 3), for example, there is a switch in the place between
excerpts from interview narratives, which are presented with the
emphasis on the 'construction aspect,' and two excerpts of short
conversational exchanges, in which prototypical negotiation between
two speakers takes place. Blackledge's chapter (Ch. 2) is an
analogical case but with within-one-speaker negotiation. The chapters
differ in the degree and proportion of emphasis on these aspects.

I will turn now to the issue of discourse and discursivity. Whereas
Holstein and Gubrium (2000) have tried to integrate and harmonize, at
least in theory, the institutional 'macro' discourse-in-practice with
'micro' discursive practice of self construction, the present volume
slightly 'sides with' the grand-discourse concept, although the
editors do acknowledge the importance of the 'micro' discursivity
(p. 14). The authors managed to incorporate the conception of grand
discourse to analysis when dealing with the negotiation of identities
in the lives of individuals or small communities, i.e., at the 'micro'
level. Nevertheless, they do not seem to have attended to the
micro-discursive nature of identity negotiation. In my opinion, the
authors do not usually show the sense of identities and their
negotiation as really interactionally constructed, localized,
occasioned, and dependent on narrative structures _within_ the data
analyzed. Many authors used interview techniques in order to generate
their data but do not show, explicitly or implicitly, the awareness
that respondents negotiated their identities also and primarily with
the researcher. It is important what questions researchers give, how
they introduce themselves, how respondents perceive them, etc. In
Chapter 3, for example, 'negotiation' does not appear as a situated
action (respondent--researcher) but as self-positioning of respondents
only with respect to majority discourse (respondent--majority
discourse), and in addition, rather as a construction of identity than
true negotiation (majority discourse is not shown to receive and
respond to the respondents' claims). Robert Miller (2000)
distinguishes three approaches to life stories: neo- positivist
(viewing interviewee as affected by social structure and narratives as
mirroring objective reality in a certain way), realist (building a
data-grounded model of objective reality), and narrative (viewing
reality as structured in interplay between interviewee and
interviewer). Those contributors, who used interviews and narratives
as data, approached them usually from realist or neo-positivist

There are, however, exceptions. Mills (Ch. 5) adopted more narrative
approach than some other contributors as she has ''attempted to show
that issues binding together identity and language were very prominent
in _these data_ [i.e. in her interviews with respondents]'' (p. 186,
underlining added). A strong focus on narrative aspect of the
negotiation of self is present in Canagarajah's contribution
(Ch. 9). The author explicitly deals with strategies of self
negotiation _within and between_ academic writings and discourses.

Concerning the approach to identity negotiation and particularly the
interactive nature of this process, the editors explicitly state in
the Introduction that the authors do not take up the approach of
interactional sociolinguistics (i.e. Auer 1998 and the like), because
it deals with negotiation of identities by way of code- switching and
language choice (p. 10). However, it is not only the work on
code-switching and language choice that is devoted to interactional
identity construction and negotiation, but also ethnomethodologically
informed work such as Antaki - Widdicombe (1998), or Hester - Housley
(2002). The editors state, however, that relying _exclusively_ on
interactive analysis cannot adequately explore all the complexity of
negotiation of identities (p. 25). I would agree, but like to add
that the book under review have moved very far from interactive
analysis and, as a result, might miss much of the phenomenon. In a
reader on discourse theory and practice, Wetherell (2001: 382)
identified ''six nodes of research activity which seem most relevant
to social scientist'': (1) conversation analysis, (2) discursive
psychology, (3) Foucauldian research, (4) critical discourse analysis
and critical linguistics, (5) interactional linguistics and the
ethnography of speaking, and (6) Bakhtinian research. The authors of
this volume adhere mostly to critical discourse analysis, Bakhtinian
and Foucauldian research, and ethnography of speaking.

What is probably more relevant than all that has been mentioned above
is the question if the choice of approach, data and methods was
effective as regards the purpose of the authors' texts - to lay bare
or address instances of social injustice. It can be concluded that it
has. The volume is undoubtedly of high academic quality; it is
informative and truly stimulating. The book is powerful in that it has
one wide but synthetic and coherent theoretical perspective, within
which all the authors managed to position their chapters. It is a
well-written up-to-date achievement of a poststructuralist, socially
engaged and critical branch of qualitative sociolinguistics with
transdisciplinary overlaps, emphasis shifted from methods to findings,
and analytical interest oriented to the links between the 'macro' and
'micro' of multilingual social life.


Antaki, Charles & Widdicombe, Sue (eds.) (1998). Identities in
Talk. London: Sage.

Auer, Peter (ed.) (1998). Code-Switching in Conversation: Language,
Interaction and Identity. London: Routledge.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin:
University of Texas Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1991). Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge:
Polity Press.

Cummins, Jim (2000). Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children
in the Crossfire. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters.

Davies, Bronwyn & Harre, Rom (1990). Positioning: the discursive
production of selves. Journal of the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20,
pp. 43-65.

Fairclough, Norman (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical
Study of Language. London - New York: Longman.

Franceschini, Rita (2003). Unfocussed language acquisition? The
presentation of linguistic situations in biographical narration. Forum
Qualitative Sozialforschung, 4, available at: [accessed June 5, 2004].

Franceschini, Rita (ed.) (forthcoming). Leben mit mehreren Sprachen:
Sprachbiographien im mitteleuropaeischen Kontext. Tuebingen:

Hester, Stephen & Housley, William (eds.) (2002) Language, Interaction
and National Identity: Studies in the Social Organisation of National
Identity in Talk-in-Interaction. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Holstein, James A. & Gubrium, Jaber F. (2000). The Self We Live By:
Narrative Identity in a Postmodern World. New York - Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Irvine, Judith T. & Gal, Susan (2000). Language ideology and
linguistic differentiation. In: P. V. Kroskrity (ed.). Regimes of
Language: Ideologies, Polities and Identities. Santa Fe - Oxford:
School of American Research Press, pp. 35-84.

Miller, Robert L. (2000). Researching Life Stories and Family
Histories. London - Thousand Oaks - New Delhi: Sage.

Nekvapil, Jiri (2003). Language biographies and the analysis of
language situations: On the life of the German community in the Czech
Republic. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 162,
pp. 63-83.

Nekvapil, Jiri & Leudar, Ivan (2002). On dialogical networks:
Arguments about the migration law in Czech mass media in 1993. In:
Hester & Housley (2002), pp. 60-101.

Wetherell, Margaret (2001). Debates in discourse research. In:
Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader. Eds. M. Wetherell, S. Taylor
& S. J. Yates. London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage, pp. 380-399.


Marian Sloboda is a Ph.D. student of Linguistics at Charles
University, Prague, Czech Republic. His main study interests lie in
sociolinguistics, bilingualism research, language management,
conversation analysis, and Slavic linguistics. His dissertation will
be devoted to Belarusan and Russian language management, bilingual
discourse, language ideologies and identities in Belarus.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue